Google’s search engine dominance is hard to escape. For many, the company is synonymous with the Internet and for others it’s an indispensable business, advertising and research tool. Google’s reach into our daily life is almost difficult to comprehend. They are the developers of Android, the world’s most popular mobile operating system, they have a plethora of web apps to compete with Microsoft’s ubiquitous Office suite along with countless offerings many of us take for granted such as Google Maps, Gmail and Chrome. Google Internet search is their granddaddy and the main core of their operations. Google’s software “robots” scour every corner of the net in order to efficiently and extremely quickly bring you relevant search results and properly guide you to the information you need. At the software heart of the company is an algorithm called “PageRank”. PageRank, is an extremely complex and constantly tweaked mathematical formula that determines the importance of websites. Describing this system is way beyond the scope of this blog posts but in layman’s terms the algorithm determines website’s popularity (it’s ranking) by how many links the site receives from other sites. Naturally, the more, the better. It must be noted that it’s not the only system Google uses to rank websites but it’s by far the most important. Google’s massive datacenters are scattered all around the world and serve a mind boggling 40,000 searches per second or 3.5 Billion searches per day.
No matter what platform or programming language you have used to develop your website, if you want the world to see it, you must rank as highly as possible on Google’s ranking system. With millions of sites vying for the top spot it can be extremely hard or, at times, impossible to even rank within the first 10 page results. Your ‘best friends’ in trying to propel your site to that coveted top stop are Google’s own services, Google Analytics and Google Webmaster Tools. Google Analytics is a very complex and in-depth system for tracking and reporting on your online assets, in many cases in real time. With a small snippet of tracking code in your website, Google can freely monitor any content changes and traffic in order to help you rank higher and possibly gain more business from your online venture. Best of all, with it’s incredibly in-depth tracking tools, you are easily able to see the amount of traffic you are receiving and when. You can witness where the clicks are coming from, which region, country or even city. You can visualize how long your customers are browsing the site for, what specific pages or products are most popular and just as importantly, which pages are visited the least. This data can be invaluable for your business as you can swiftly adjust to your customer’s demands and provide them with a more catered and quicker service. Just imagine starting an advertising campaign for your online business then being able to track its effectiveness just by checking out the “Audience Overview” on your Google Analytics page. Yet another important matrix is what type of a device or web browser your customers are using. If you are seeing an influx of clicks coming from mobile devices such as smartphones, tablets and mobile browsers, then maybe it’s time to make your website mobile device friendly and easy to navigate on smaller screens. As a completely free tool, Google Analytics should be the first thing one should setup after uploading their site to the Internet, it is an indispensable tool especially when trying to monetize from your online presence.
Google Search Console (Previously - Google Webmaster Tools).
Google’s often overlooked but equally important instrument for optimizing the visibility of your website is the recently renamed Google Search Console. In a nutshell, it is yet another free service offered by the search giant to help you with your site’s ranking and optimize visibility. Once properly configured, the tool easily allows you to view what Google is doing with your site. You can check the frequency your website is being crawled by Google’s robots, you can view security issues the site may be having, check for crawl errors and easily request manual index submissions. One of the most important ways you can aid Google in properly indexing your site is to create and submit a sitemap. A sitemap is a simple structured XML document that displays all of the web site’s content, it can prevent indexing errors and may help speed up Google’s crawling of your site. It can be easily created with simple tools and submitted using the Google Search Console. A sitemap can also be used to help your users navigate your website, similar to a virtual table of contents.
Digging a little deeper into Google’s tools you will find plenty of other features that may help you run your site efficiently and safely. One of the biggest problems on the Internet is security, having the ability to visually inspect your traffic and its sources can help keep your site running smoothly. Returning to Google Analytics you will find the ability to find out if your site is being examined by unsavory Internet bots or search engines you may not want your site to be indexed by. These types of visits can severely skew your search data and even be used for malicious attacks such as SQL script injections full of redirects to shady advertising websites or denial of service attacks (DOS). There is a two pronged approach when dealing with such issues, one is to simply block the offenders by using an exclude filter, then placing your site behind a CDN. A CDN or Content Delivery Network is a system of Internet connected computers in massive datacenters that provide not only faster access and lower latency to your site based on geographical but also keeps it secure. A CDN works as an intermediary between your site’s host and the rest of the Internet, it examines and filters unwanted packets keeping your site running smoothly. We will cover the benefits of a CDN in subsequent posts.
Setting up Google Analytics.
In the second part of this post I will illustrate the basics in setting up Google’s Analytics and Search Console. Please note that these services are very dynamic and change frequently with new features and user interface changes. What you see in the illustrations below may not apply %100 in future versions.
The first step, of course, is to get a Google account. It’s an easy and very self-explanatory process of entering some basic information and choosing a prefix for your email address. Your Google (Gmail) account is the key that opens up all of Google’s services and perks.
Getting started with your account and receiving a tracking ID.
Before you begin this process you absolutely must have access to your website and be able to freely edit its code. Google Analytics requires that you ‘inject’ a small snipped of their generated tracking script. [KW1] The process is basically a web based step by step wizard requesting you to copy and paste a little bit of code into the header of your own site. This little snippet needs to be placed before the </head> tag in your HTML or in some cases placed in a special area of your CMS designed especially for this task. Save your changes and give Google some time to update those changes on their back end. Sometimes it may take just a few minutes (you can check this by clicking on the ‘real time’ analytics link) or just give everything a few days [KW2] to ‘catch up’. Please keep in mind there are 1000s of sites being indexed at that one split second when you submitted yours. At this step, patience is key. Additionally, if you are having troubles with this process and the site is barraging you with cryptic error messages, there is an easy option for Google to email this information over to your webmaster to take care of.
Here is an example of the code and tracking ID automatically generated by Google.
If you only have one domain, then make sure you check that off then decide if you will be using Google’s advertising business, AdWords. We will be covering Google’s advertising platform in future posts. Please note that you can always go back into these settings and make changes at will, nothing is set in stone.
After a little patience you should start seeing some traffic on your site.
The flexibility of Google’s filters is vast and almost fun to play with. You can easily see if the majority of your audience is coming from your neighborhood, only big metropolitan centers or a country from around the globe. The filters can also allow you to remove data you may not be interested in such as other search engines indexing your site, spambots looking for exploits or other malicious traffic. The incredible and very in depth flexibility of setting up custom reports (including demographic and interest, setting goals etc.) will be covered here in future posts.
Here is Google's filter customization section.
Having this type of data can take some of the guesswork out of understanding your customer base and allows you to focus the proper marketing in the proper direction.
Next time we will be looking into the magic of social media and its tremendous impact on today's modern businesses.